After surviving our first New Zealand winter (well just the northland one) and just as blossoms were beginning to sprout on the trees and the smell of spring was in the air, we were finally ready to head back to the tropics.
Fortunately, our passage was relatively uneventful - exactly what you want from a passage! There was no violent slamming into waves that we'd anticipated might be the case with a hull this flat, and she was a very smooth ride indeed.
Without an autopilot, we did watches around the clock with two people in the cockpit at all times, taking it in turns to helm. Despite our relatively novice sailing crew, everyone enjoyed their stint behind the wheel - she was definitely a fun boat to sail! It was refreshing to do a passage without the usual reliance on an autopilot. We found it kept our crew more engaged with their environment and the elements, as well as providing them with valuable training behind the wheel. This part of the day became something to look forward to and gave our young surfer crew a way to let off steam!
The wind was pretty consistent for the whole trip, and we didn't turn the engine on until it was time to head through the reef pass arriving into Fiji. There were some wet and wild moments during the first half of the trip, and our open cockpit left our crew pretty exposed to the elements. Luckily the constant stream of warm pizza coming out of the oven helped warm us from the inside! The weather only improved as we headed further north and our night watch outfits turned from woolly hats and wet weather gear to caps and board shorts.
Our most eventful day was shortly before our arrival, when the wind dropped, prompting Timo to suggest putting up a (giant) gennaker. It was already quite late in the day and I glanced around nervously at our fledgling crew as Timo enthused that we could keep it up overnight... Up it went without incident, and I was lucky enough to have the helm to start. It's always fun flying the gennakers, that's for sure, but I had to focus, and there were a few times when the kite skimmed the water, threatening a broach... the wind didn't feel so light anymore... As I passed the helm over, the wind picked up further and Timo raced to grab the wheel from the new helmsman as the sail dipped dangerously below the water making the boat difficult to control. A few minutes later and we were on our ear again. Finally, after a couple of repeat performances and as the sky darkened around us Timo relented and agreed to take the gennaker down. Phew.
My relief was short lived however as we blew the tack and started to release the halyard, only to find that the sail refused to come down. We tried hoisting and releasing the halyard a few more times, tried pulling from different angles, but nothing helped. Bugger.
Timo started to prepare himself to go up the mast to get it down. We watched in silence as he ascended the 30 metres to release the halyard and breathed a collective sigh of relief when he landed safely back on the deck without further drama. Stars were beginning to twinkle in the sky as we tried to slow the boat enough to drag the huge wet heavy mass of sail cloth now trailing behind us, back onboard.
The next time our red bull gennaker came out to play, was during our remaining quarantine days anchored outside Denarau Marina. Timo decided it would be fun to send our crew flying. Luckily the halyard released without issues this time (after Timo's repair) and the kite and all our crew all came back down in one piece!
It felt great to be back in Fiji, a bit like coming home (especially for Timo) and to set our eyes on sandy islands lined with palm trees surrounded by turquoise waters again. We still had a week of confinement aboard the boat to finish our quarantine before we could explore our new surroundings, but the Fijian navy made this as comfortable as possible by providing us with sim cards with internet, coconuts and cold beer!
Despite the difficulties of the past year, with Covid restrictions keeping Timo from returning to his job, house, car and boat in Fiji, we're grateful we've been able to use the opportunity to fulfil our dream of buying NV and bringing her up to Vuda Marina for a major refit. We have big plans for her, including re-designing the interior to create double cabins, a workshop and re-installing the old water ballast with drinking water. Above deck we want to re-install the original coffee grinders, carbon bow sprit and add an escape hatch on the stern. Then there's the painting, antifouling, re-wiring of electrics, installation of an autopilot, water maker, water heater, etc etc. The list is endless... Timo's role at Vuda Marina over the last 4 years means it's the ideal place for us to carry this work out. What we've achieved so far is the easy part, now for the real challenge of turning this ex-race boat into a performance (family) cruiser.
With cyclone season looming on the horizon, our first challenge was to get the boat out of the water and into a cyclone pit... not an easy feat with a 4.2 metre draft it turns out... I'll tell you about that next time...
Check out some clips of what it's like to sail NV and subscribe to our channel to follow our adventure :)